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Sri Dakshinamurthy: Guru, Ishwara, and Atman

Sri Dakshinamurthy is not only worshiped as the First Guru, but also as the One, who teaches everyone through the medium innumerable number of human Gurus.

ईश्वरो गुरुरात्मेति मूर्तिभेदविभागिने

व्योमवद्व्याप्तदेहाय दक्षिणामूर्तये नमः || (Manasollasa 1.30)

Salutation to Dakshinamurthy, who is all pervading like the space/ether, and who is manifest in different forms as Ishwara (God), Guru (teacher), and as Atman (the Self).

Importance of Guru in Hindu tradition

The saying “matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava” equating mother, father, and the teacher with Ishwara (Brahman) is a well-known and deeply ingrained wisdom in Hindu tradition. The phrase is actually taken from the Taittiriya Upanishad (Shikshavalli XI.2), which is one of the foremost of the Upanishads. The importance of Guru in an individual’s life can also be gauged by the fact that the Guru is considered as the father of a child, who has undergone the Upanayana ceremony [1] and has thus taken a “second birth”, whereas the Vedas taught by the Guru becomes the Mother of such a person.

Though, the term Guru is often translated simply as a “teacher”, the English word does not completely convey the meaning of Guru. Manu Smriti (2.140-142) explains three kinds of teachers, in the context of spiritual education: Upadhyaya, Acharya, and Guru. Upadhyaya is one, who teaches any one branch of the Vedic corpus as a means of livelihood. It is similar to modern vocational teaching, wherein teachers use teaching as a means of livelihood. Acharya is one, who performs the sacrament of Upanayana (and initiates him into Gayatri mantra), and teaches the Vedas and the allied subjects, the entirety of the Vedic corpus along with its practical application and the deeper symbolic meaning. In the modern settings, he can be compared to preceptor, who acts as a teacher and a guide. Guru is one, who does various sacraments to the child, starting from Nisheka to Upanayana, and also feeds him with food. That is, Guru is one, who takes up parental duties like performing various Samskaras and providing food and shelter to the pupil, apart from imparting the knowledge of Vedas and guiding the pupil on the path to liberation. In other words, Guru is an Acharya, who in addition to imparting knowledge of the Vedas, also plays the role of a parent. Manu Smriti (2.144) describes such a Guru, who truthfully fills both the ears of the child with the Vedas, i.e. who imparts Brahma-Jnana (Knowledge of Brahman, which ultimately leads to Moksha/liberation) to the child, as being both the father and the mother of that child. In verse 2.146, it is further states that such a Guru, who initiated a child into Veda and hence in the path towards Brahma-Jnana, is more venerable than the father, who has merely given physical birth to a child.

Thus, in the Hindu tradition, Guru is not simply any teacher, who imparts some mundane knowledge. Instead, Guru is one, who imparts Adhyatmika Vidya- the spiritual wisdom and facilitates a person to attain Bramha-Jnana and hence become free from ignorance (Avidya), which causes the bondage of birth and death. This specific role played by the Guru is manifest in the very name itself. The Advayataraka Upanishad (Verse 16) says:

गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारः स्यात्‌ रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः
अन्धकारनिरोधित्वात्‌ गुरुरित्यभिधीयते॥

The letter ‘gu’ refers to darkness, the letter ‘ru’ means he who dispels such darkness, ‘Guru’ is called so because of his ability to dispel darkness (of ignorance).

Similar verses are found in Guru Gita (1.45) as well, which defines ‘Gu’ as “Bhava roga”- material diseases, i.e. mental passions like lust, anger, hate, delusion, jealousy, etc., which are rooted in ignorance; and ‘Ru’ as the annihilator of these mental passions. Thus, the Mundaka Upanishad (1.2.12) says that one, who has developed Vairagyam (dispassion) towards the mundane objects after thoroughly examining the futility of pursuing them, and who, now, wishes to attain ‘Tattva Jnana’[2]- the knowledge of ultimate transcendental reality, should go and take refuge in a “Guru”. The verse further describes the qualities of a Guru, who is able to impart Brahma-Jnana as being two-fold: Srotriya and Brahmanishta. Srotriya refers to having a thorough knowledge of the Vedas, including its deeper symbolism and significance. Brahmanishta refers to the Guru being a Self-realized person, who is ever established in Brahman. Thus, a Guru is one, who not only has a thorough knowledge of the scriptures at an intellectual level (Paroksha/indirect knowledge), but has also attained direct realization of Brahma-Atma-Aikyam (i.e. immediate and first hand realization of Brahman itself being the innermost Self-Atman, called as Aparoksha Jnana).

Thus, Manu Smriti (2.145) says that an Acharya is more venerable than ten Upadhyayas and a father is more venerable than hundred Acharyas and a mother is more venerable than thousand fathers. As mentioned before, the meaning of father and mother in the context of the verses, refers to the Guru, who imparts Brahma-Jnana to the pupil (Manu Smriti 2.144). This does not mean a Guru will grant Moksha to each of his pupils in the current life itself, nor does it mean that Gurus, who impart teaching of only an aspect of Veda, or those who initiate a person only in preliminary spiritual practices are inferior. In fact, Manu Smriti (2.249) itself says that any person, who imparts even a little bit of spiritual knowledge, who guides even a little in the path towards Jnana, is to be venerated as Guru. This is because, even a small amount of teaching, when implemented, will help in reducing the bondage of mundane life by dispelling some ignorance.

Guru occupies a very high pedestal and plays a very important role in Hindu tradition, irrespective of whether he imparts less or more, preliminary or advanced teachings related to Adhyatma (spirituality). This high stature given to a Guru is best illustrated by the verse that appears at the beginning of this article. The verse is taken the text “Manasollasa”, a commentary written by Sri Sureshwaracharya, the disciple of Adi Shankaracharya, on his Guru’s work Sri Dakshinamurthy Stotram. The verse illustrates how in the Hindu tradition, it is Brahman itself, which appears as a Guru in the human form and imparts transcendental teachings that helps one to realize one’s Atman and attain Moksha. In other words, Ishwara, Guru, and Self are non-different from each other and whatever difference one perceives is only through ignorance.

Shivatattvasudhanidhi says:

महावाक्यार्थदो यस्तु गुरुः परमः शिवः | तत्वोपदेष्टुरधिको गुरुः हि शङ्करः ||

He alone, who bestows the supreme knowledge, the import of the Mahavakyas, is the Guru, the great, none other, and there is no doubt whatsoever that He is verily Shiva Himself.

That Brahman itself manifests as Guru and that both are non-different from the innermost Self-Atman, is also repeated by Lord Krishna in Uddava Gita, when he says “know for certain that Acharya is Myself” (17.27) and “One’s Guru is one’s very Self” (7.20). Therefore, it is quite clear that the Hindu tradition perceives Guru as not only a human teacher, who imparts spiritual knowledge, but also as the manifestation of Brahman itself. Further, it perceives Guru as being the innermost Self/Atman of each individual. Thus, all the three notions of Guru: as a human teacher, who is external to an individual, as the inner Self/Atman, who shines as Buddhi (intelligence), and as Brahman itself bestowing His grace are deeply ingrained in the Hindu tradition. These notions regarding a Guru are best illustrated by Sri Dakshinamurthy, who at once is Guru, Ishwara, and Atman.

Sri Dakshinamurthy as a human teacher

Lord Dakshinamurthy is popularly depicted as a deity, who faces the south. In Indian spiritual traditions, he is perceived as the First Guru. The Yogis call him “Adi Yogi” and the Naths call him “Adi Nath”. The Sampradayas belonging to Veda, Tantra, and Agama, all trace their origin to Sri Dakshinamurthy. Iconographically, he is depicted in various forms like Yoga Dakshinamurthy– the teacher of Yoga and Tantra, Veena Dakshinamurthy– the teacher of all arts, and Vyakhyanamurthi– the teacher, who is the source of all scriptures, and imparts all knowledge.

Hindu tradition believes that Brahman manifests as a human teacher to impart Knowledge. Thus, the tradition speaks about how Lord Brahmaa imparted Manu Smriti to Rishi Manu, how Lord Vishnu manifested as Veda Vyasa to divide and arrange the Vedas, and how Para-Brahman itself manifests as a young boy “Dakshinamurthy”. Thus, one of the Dhyana slokas (meditation verses) about Dakshinamurthy describes Him as:

चित्रं वटतरोर्मूले वृद्धाः शिष्याः गुरुर्युवा | गुरोस्तु मौनं व्याख्यानं शिष्यास्तु च्चिन्नसंशयाः ||

The young teacher, who is seated at the root of a banyan tree and imparting spiritual wisdom to the aged disciples through silence and dispelling all doubts that are confronting them.

The meditation verse is quite interesting as it depicts very aged Rishis as being students of a young Dakshinamurthy. The old age of the Rishis denotes their long journey towards attaining Moksha and the youth of Dakshinamurthy depicts His immortality, inspite of being in a human form. Similar verses can be found in Dakshinamurthy Upanishad, which describes him as “He who is seated at the foot of a fig tree, surrounded by S’uka and other sages, holding in the hands the symbol of the blessed wisdom, with axe and deer,—one of the hands resting on the knees, the loins girdled round by a mighty serpent, a digit of the moon enclosed in His clotted hair.

Apart from Dakshinamurthy manifesting as a young teacher teaching the Rishis, the traditional accounts are filled with how he also takes human birth from time to time to spread Knowledge. Thus, the Advaita tradition considers that it was Dakshinamurthy, who took Avatara as Adi Shankaracharya in order to revive and re-establish Dharma (Shankaravijaya 4.60). Similarly, the Nath tradition traces its origins to Lord Shiva, who is called as Adi Natha, from whom Matsyendranatha received Yogic teachings.

Hindu tradition goes a step further and explains that it is Sri Dakshinamurthy, who in his compassion manifests as various human Gurus and guides mankind. Thus, DS Subbaramaiya, in his excellent study on Sri Dakshinamurthy Stotram, writes: “The Lord being pleased with the constant and unflinching devotion and worship in the prescribed manner, extending over many lives on the part of the seeker, manifests Himself, in His infinite mercy in the human form of Guru, thereby becoming accessible to Sishya for Susrusha (doing Seva to guru) and Vichara (practicing Self-enquiry), which culminate in his crossing over the perilous ocean of Samsara.” (Page 19)

This is not a statement of mere faith or philosophy, but is rooted in the conviction and realizations of Spiritual masters over many centuries. Thus, Totakacharya, the disciple of Adi Shankara, writes of his Guru in Totakaashtakam (Verse 4): Seized by the delightful amazement have I ever been in the realization That Thou art Bhava (Ishwara) Himself, O! Shankara! My revered Guru! Grant me refuge and ward of the ocean of ignorance.” A similar sentiment is expressed by Sri Chandrashekara Bharati, the previous Shankaracharya of Sringeri Peetham about his own Guru in his commentary on Vivekachudamani. He calls his Guru Sri Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharati as a manifestation of Lord Dakshinamurthy. The gist is that the Hindu tradition perceives Dakshinamurthy as being the source of all Knowledge, who teaches through the medium of various human teachers and facilitates each individual to travel in the path towards Brahma-Jnana. It is for this reason, it is said that a person needs the grace (Anugraha) of Ishwara, to even meet a genuine Sadguru.

Thus, in the Hindu tradition, Sri Dakshinamurthy is not only worshiped as the First Guru, but also as the One, who teaches everyone through the medium innumerable number of human Gurus.

Sri Dakshinamurthy as Ishwara

Ishwara means “Lord/Controller”. Taittiriya Upanishad (3.1) describes Brahman as: “Know that as Brahman, from which all the creatures are born, being born by which they sustain and into which they merge back.” Isha Upanishad (Verse 1) says that Ishwara inhabits each and every object of the Universe. In Verse 8 it says, Lord pervades the Universe and controls the Universe by allotting to each object its duties. Sri Dakshinamurthy represents this Brahman, who as Ishwara creates, sustains, and destroys the Universe.

The name Dakshinamurthy can be broken into “Dakshina”, which means “South” and “Murthy”, which means “deity”. Thus, Dakshinamurthy is the deity, who faces the South. The deity of the South is Lord Yama, who brings death and destruction at the appropriate time and hence represents mortality. On the other hand, Dakshinamurthy, who faces the South and imparts the Knowledge of the Self, which is denoted by his hands being in Chinmudra [3], represents immortality. Dakshinamurthy facing the South can also be taken as a representation of his association with Lord Shiva of Trimurthis, who controls the aspect of destruction, and Lord Mahakala, who is also associated with time and Pralaya (destruction). It is interesting to note that despite this association, there is an important contrast between the kind of Pralaya that Shiva brings and the kind of Pralaya that Dakshinamurthy imparts. Shiva brings about what the Bhagavata Purana (12.4.2-4) calls Naimittika Pralaya, wherein the Brahmaa goes to a temporary period of sleep and the three worlds undergo destruction and return to a potential state within Brahmaa. Mahakala brings about, what the Bhagavata Purana (12.4.5-22) calls as Prakritika Pralaya, wherein all objects of the universe, including Brahmaa become annihilated and absorbed into a state of Unmanifestation, from which a new Universe is manifested again at a later stage. But, Sri Dakshinamurthy grants, what the Bhagavata Purana (12.4.23-34) terms as Atyantika Pralaya, which means final liberation, brought about by destruction of Avidya/ignorance through the attainment of Brahma-Jnana.

The name Dakshinamurthy can also be understood in another way. It can be broken into “Dakshina”, which means a person who has skill, competency, and authority and “Amurthy”, which means formless. In Svayamprakasha’s “Tattvasudha”, which is a commentary on Sri Dakshinamurthy Stotram of Adi Shankaracharya, the commentator explains the name Dakshinamurthy thus:

दक्षिणः सृष्टिस्थित्यन्तविरचनानिपुणश्चासौ परमार्थत अमूर्तिश्च आकारविशेषरहितः |

Dakshina refers to He, who is competent to create, sustain, and dissolve this Universe, and who, however, in reality, in his Absolute state, is Amurthy i.e. formless.

In other words, Dakshinamurthy is birthless, formless, eternal Para-Brahman, who through his own power of Maya, manifests this Universe and sustains it as its Lord. Thus, Dakshinamurthy is identified with Ishwara, who creates, sustains, and dissolves the Universe. The term “Dakhina” or competency may also refer to the ability of Dakshinamurthy to grant Moksha and free an individual from the bondage of birth and death. Thus, Dakshinamurthy can also be understood as Para Brahman, who is, though, formless and birth less, through his power of Maya, assumes the various forms of deities and Gurus, out of compassion for people and leads them to Moksha.

Thus, Sri Dakshinamurthy refers to Para Brahman, who as Ishwara creates, sustains, and destroys the Universe and guides people towards Atma-Jnana and Moksha.

Sri Dakshinamurthy as Innermost Atman

When one dives into the depths of Vedanta, an even more profound meaning of the name “Dakshinamurthy” can be found. Dakshinamurthy Upanishad (Verse 31) defines the name as:

शेमुषी दक्षिणा प्रोक्ता सा यस्याभीक्षणे मुखम्

दक्षिणाभिमुखः प्रोक्तः शिवोऽसौ ब्रह्मवादिभिः ||

The word ‘Dakshina’ means Buddhi (intellect). Because Buddhi is the eye by which Shiva can be directly seen. He is called Dakshinabhimukha by the Brahmavadins.

To properly understand the above verse, it is important to briefly explain few important tenets of Vedanta Darshana as enunciated by the Upanishads.

Moksha refers to permanent liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Svetashwatara Upanishad (3.8), for example, says that this Moksha is possible only through the Knowledge of Brahman, who exists as Atman- the innermost Self in each person. This is so because, the cycle of birth and death, the cycle of Karma and its results, which constitutes this Universe, is rooted in Avidya or Ignorance. This Avidya, which is also called as Maya, makes the world, which does not have any independent or permanent existence separate from Brahman, to appear as if Brahman, Jiva- the individual, and the Jagat- the Universe are three separate entities (Mayapanchakam Verse 1). The Avidya or ignorance, thus, is with respect to the true nature of Reality. Upanishads describe the true nature of Brahman as Satyam (Existence), Jnanam (Knowledge), and Anantham (Infinity) (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1.1); they describe that there is no multiplicity in Brahman (Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 4.4.19); they describe Him as One without a Second (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.5), Non-dual wholeness, which is unchanging, auspicious, and where all multiplicities have ceased to exist (Mandukya Upanishad Verse 7). This formless, birthless, and non-dual Brahman, who is devoid of duality of subject and object, is identified with Atman. Mandukya Upanishad (verse 2) says “All this, the entire universe is Brahman, and the Self/Atman is Brahman”. Similarly, the Mahavakyas equate Atman- the innermost Self of all beings with Brahman- the substratum of the Universe. Advaita Vedanta, condenses these wide range of teachings into a half a sloka:

ब्रह्म सत्यं जगन्मिथ्या जिवो ब्रह्मैव नापरः” (Brahmajnavali Verse 18)

Brahman is Permanent Existence, World of names and forms are temporary appearances that are illusory in nature, the Innermost Self/Atman is non-different from Brahman.

Brahman, through his mysterious power of Maya, manifests himself on the one hand, as innumerable number of Jivas, and on the other hand, as very vast Universe with infinite number of objects. The Jiva, being thus subjected to Maya, becomes ignorant about the true nature of reality, and instead self-identifies itself with false superimpositions like body and mind. Since, it is the Avidya or Ignorance, which is at the root of bondage of karmic cycle, it is only through the elimination of Ignorance that one can become free. And elimination of ignorance happens only through Knowledge, just as the fear and sorrow created by a rope mistaken as a snake, can only be removed by knowing the truth that it is a rope and not a snake (Vivekachoodamani Verse 12). Hence, the Upanishad quoted in the previous paragraph, speaks about Jnana or Knowledge about the true nature of reality, called as “Atma Jnana” or “Brahma Jnana”, as being the only way to attain Moksha.

The question, which obviously arise now is, how does one attain Atma-Jnana? Adi Shankaracharya in Vivekachoodamani (Verse 11) says that the Knowledge about the Self can only be attained through practicing “Vichara”- Self enquiry. This process of Self-enquiry is not merely an intellectual gymnasium. Instead, it is the conscious separation of the Self from non-Self entities like body, senses, and the mind. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4.5) says:

आत्मा वा अरे द्रष्टव्यः श्रोतव्यो मन्तव्यो निदिध्यासितव्यो मैत्रेयि, आत्मनो वा अरे दर्शनेन श्रवणेन मत्या विज्ञानेनेदं सर्वं विदितम् |

The Self, my dear Maitreyī, should be realised—should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. By the realisation of the Self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.

Thus the Upanishad places a three-staged process culminating in Atma-Jnana. The three stages are Sravana (Hearing), Manana (reflecting) and Nidhidhyasa (meditating). Sravana and Manana refer to listening and reflecting on the teachings of the Guru about the true nature of Reality and about how Atman, the innermost Self, which though is non-different from Brahman, due to ignorance, it falsely identifies itself with non-Self objects like body. These two stages forms the intellectual understanding of true nature of the Self. This is called as Paroksha Jnana- indirect knowledge.

The next stage is Niddhidhyasa or meditation, which attempts to help one to internalize the teachings and make one directly realize the true nature of the Self. This Niddhidhyasa is similar to Dhyana of Yoga, but it goes a step beyond it. Both the process of Dhyana and Niddhidhyasa starts with an attempt to control the activities of the mind and bring the mental vrittis- the thought patterns to a still. This is achieved through concentrating the mind on a single object, internal or external and perfecting this One-pointed concentration. Once, this is perfected, then a person is able to focus on just a single thought-pattern (vritti) and bring all other activities of the mind to a standstill. The next stage involves concentrating the mind inwards towards the Self, which is witnessing the activities of the mind. The Patanjali Yogasutras (1.2-3), calls this stage as Yoga and defines it as a state wherein the patterns (vrittis) of the mind have been removed or stilled, so that the “seer” abides in his real nature.” In this stage, though the thought patterns of the mind have been completely still, the Self still identifies itself with “Seer” or the Witness. Thus, the Self is still subjected to the limitation of being a cause, a subject, or a witness. This, implies that there is still a perception of duality in the Self because in the deep meditation, the Self exists as an objectless Subject and not as Non-dual Self, which is the source of both the subject and object, and yet is non-dual and beyond both. The path of Yoga presented by Patanjali stops at this stage. The next stage involves, a seeker attempting to shed this limitation of being a Subject, by concentrating on the single conviction of Atman or the Self as being the one infinite whole, which is non-dual, yet manifests and pervades the duality, and which is the essence of the Mahavakyas like “Aham Brahmasmi”. Such, a meditation will give rise to a mental vritti, which engulfs all perception of duality and multiplicity and replaces them by the single perception of Self/Atman as One infinite whole. This vritti, which is infinite in expanse and perceives the identity of Atman with Brahman, which perceives Atman as the One Infinite whole, is called as “Akhandaakaara Vritti” and is also known as Atma Jnana or Brahma Jnana. This is the direct and immediate realization of the Self, the Aparoksha Jnana. This Akhandaakaara Vritti destroys the Mula-Avidya (the primal ignorance) and makes way for the Atman to shine in its true reality, without any obstruction. This is called Moksha and such a person is called “Mukta” or Liberated. Speaking about this state of Jnana and Moksha, Isha Upanishad (Verse 6) says, a Jivanmukta (one who becomes liberated even while retaining the body), perceives all the universe and its objects inside his own Atman and perceives his Atman inside all the objects. In other words, one becomes liberated by shedding duality rooted in Avidya using Atma-Jnana in the form of Akhandaakaara Vritti, so that Non-duality, which is the true reality shines forth uninterruptedly.

Now, returning back to the verse quoted from the Dakshinamurthy Upanishad, the verse says that Dakshina refers to “Buddhi” (intellect), which has the capacity to perceive Brahman in his true Amurthy or formless state. The “Buddhi” in the verse refers to the “Akhandaakaara Vritti”, which alone has the capacity to perceive Brahman in his true non-dual state. Thus, Dakshinamurthy refers to Brahman, who Himself exists as Buddhi in each individual and who then manifests in form of Akhandaakara Vritti, so as to facilitate one to perceive Non-dual Brahman and attain Moksha.

The same Upanishad in Verse 30 further states: “Dwelling in the devotee as his own very Self with His inherent bliss, He (Dakshinamurthy) revives viveka or discriminative wisdom hitherto overpowered with delusion and oppressed by duality for want of proper enquiry into truth.” In other words, Dakshinamurthy, who exists as the very Atman of each individual, facilitates an individual to overcome duality and attain non-duality. This notion can be arrived at in another way. “Dakshina” also means “right side” and the right side of the chest is the location of the heart- Hrdaya. Hrdaya should not to be confused with physical heart. In Vedantic texts, Hrdaya refers to the center of individual existence, the seat of Brahman inside an individual. Thus, Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (10.20) says “I am the Self, O Guḍākeśa, seated in the hearts of all creatures.” The Taittiriya Upanishad (2.1.1) says “He who knows that Brahman as existing in the “Intellect”, which is lodged in the supreme space in the heart, enjoys, in identification with the all-knowing Brahman, all desirable things simultaneously.” Katha Upanishad (2.1.3) calls this Brahman, who is lodged in the heart as Buddhi, as “Anghushtamatra Purusha” (Thumb-sized Purusha), who is like a light without a smoke, the ruler of the past and the future, who is eternal. Thus, this Purusha in the heart, who is lodged as “Buddhi” and acts as the “Inner Guru”, “Inner Light” is none other Sri Dakshinamurthy.

Sri Dakshinamurthi Stotram of Adi Shankaracharya

This short stotram containing just ten verses, is perhaps, one of the most brilliant compositions of Adi Shankaracharya, who at once expresses intense Bhakti to Guru and Sri Dakshinamurthy and imparts the lofty teachings of Vedanta. It is interesting to note that Shankaracharya ends each stanza of the stotram, with “तस्मै श्रीगुरुमूर्तये नम इदं श्रीदक्षिणामूर्तये”, which means “Obeisance to Him, Sri Dakshinamurthi, who is incarnate in the form of my Guru.”

The phrase is interesting for many reasons. We already saw the various meanings of the terms “Guru” and “Dakshinamurthy”. Now, according to Tattvaloka, the term “Sri” attached to Dakshinamurthy refers to “beginingless, incomprehensible Maya Shakti of Brahman.” Since, Dakshinamurthy represents Ishwara, He is always accompanied by his Maya Shakti and hence, the great master, Adi Shankaracharya, has added “Sri” before “Dakshinamurthy”. “Sri” also represents Lakshmi or inexhaustible wealth and one of the Shruti texts says that for the righteous, Rik, Yajus, and Saman are the Sri. Since, Guru has been described in the Upanishads as being well-versed in the scriptures and established in the Atman, Adi Shankaracharya has chosen to prefix “Guru” as well with “Sri” denoting Guru as being an inexhaustible storehouse of Knowledge, and a very embodiment of enlightenment. Adi Shankaracharya further repeats the statement “salutations to Dakshinamurthy, who has incarnated as my own Guru” to stress the identity of Guru and Ishwara, to imprint upon the students that they should not become attached to the external form of the Guru, but must recognize the “Guru Tattva” (the essence of the Guru), which is Sri Dakshinamurthy Himself. The usage of the term “Namah” is very insightful as well. Though, it is normally understood as paying respect or salutation, in the Vedantic literature, it has a specific meaning. Ramapurvatapaniya Upanishad (2.4) describes “Namah” as giving expression to “identity”. That is, Namah does not simply refer to salutations, but it is an expression of the Para-Bhakti, of the intention to completely merge with the object to which worship is being offered. In other words, Namah denotes the desire and intention of the devotee to completely merge with the deity and attain Sayujya or Moksha. Thus, by using “Namah”, Adi Shankaracharya, adds a prayer, a request to attain Moksha, through the worship of the Guru, who is Sri Dakshinamurthy himself. Thus, Adi Shakaracharya successfully expresses the identity of the Jiva, Guru, and Ishwara using a single phrase.

DS Subbaramaiya, while examining this phrase writes: “The last line in each stanza… emphasizes that the obeisance is to the Lord Himself in His aspect as Guru, which obviously indicates that the Grace sought is only for this knowledge. The importance of Namah in this connection cannot be overemphasized. Starting with Sastanganamaskara, its culmination would be in getting merged- Abedhabhavana- in the Svarupa of the Guru, nay, in securing identity with Him.” (Page 9).

Writing further about the subject matter dealt in the stotram, DS Subbaramaiya, writes: “A study of the Stotra reveals that the Guru has been characterized variously in the stanzas. It is pointed out that the Guru is realized to be one’s own Atman, He is Ishwara, the Maayaavi, who is the creator of the Jagat; He is Mahavaakyopadeshta. These aspects are emphasized by pointing out that He is the Self-effulgent Adhishtana by means of which the objects of the world derive their existence and become cognizable. He is the dispenser of the Phalas like the Siddhis as also Sarvaatmatvamahaavibhuti. The whole of the universe is, in fact, His Ashtamurthisvaroopa as the ninth stanza shows. For the discerning- Vimarshatam- it becomes evident that there is nothing other than Ishwara- the all-pervading transcendental Brahman.”

Therefore, Adi Shankaracharya’s Dakshinamurthy Stotra is not only an important source for understanding the form, glory and symbolism behind Sri Dakshinamurthy, it is also an invaluable asset in understanding the philosophy of Vedanta. It is a text, which aims to assist an individual in both Bhakti and Jnana.

निधये सर्वविद्यानां भिषजे भवरोगिणाम्
गुरवे सर्वलोकानां दक्षिणामूर्तये नमः

Salutations to Lord Dakshinamurti, the abode of all wisdom, teacher of the whole world, healing those who suffer from the disease of samsara.

Here is a link to Dakshinamurthy Stotram in Sanskrit and its English translation.


  1. Upanayana ceremony refers to the ritual initiation of a person into the study of four Vedas. The sacrament involves giving Yajnopaveetham (sacred thread) to the child and initiating him into Gayatri mantra.
  2. Tattva Jnana is same as Brahma Jnana, which is also called as Atma-Jnana. Tattva refers to ultimate reality, which is Para-Brahman itself, and hence called as Brahma-Jnana (Knowledge of Brahman). Since, according to the Upanishads, Brahman is non-different than Atman- the innermost Self of everyone, Knowledge of Brahman is same as Realization of Atman i.e. Atma-Jnana.
  3. Chin Mudra: Mudras are hand gestures, which have specific context and connotation. Chin Mudra involves making a circle using the thumb and the fore finger, while all the three fingers remain straight and in contact with each other. The circled fore-finger touches the middle finger as well. This is the mudra of Atma-Jnana. The Thumb represents Brahman, whereas the fore-finger represents the Ego or Jivatma. The other three fingers represent three bodies- physical, subtle, and causal. The touching of fore-finger and the thumb represents merging of Jiva into Brahman, thus attaining Brahma-Atma-Aikyam. [Check here- ]

Select Bibliography

  1. DS Subbaramaiya, Sri Dakshinamurthi Stotram: A Study based on the Manasollasa and the Tattvasudha.
  2. Manu Smriti, translation into Kannada by Shesha Navaratna,
  3. S. Yegnasubramanian, DakshiNAmUrti Stotram of Adi Sankara
  4. Swami Gambhirananda, Eight Upanishads, with commentaries of Shankaracharya (English translation)
  5. Srimad Bhagavatham, English translation, Bhaktivedanta Vedabase
  6. Dakshinamurthy Upanishad, translated into English by Alladi Mahadeva Sastri
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With a degree in civil engineering, and having worked in construction field, Nithin Sridhar passionately writes about various issues from development, politics, and social issues, to religion, spirituality and ecology. He is based in Mysore, India. Tweets at @nkgrock